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Oslo University Grants Mass Murderer Anders Behring Breivik a Spot in Its Politics Program

Norway's criminal justice system has a rehabilitation-focused approach, but the university's decision has sparked debate about inmates' rights to higher education.

by VICE News
Jul 17 2015, 4:20pm

Photo by Heiko Junge/EPA

Norway's Oslo University has reportedly offered convicted killer Anders Behring Breivik a place in its political science program, which he will undertake remotely from prison, where he is serving time for the massacre of 77 people in 2011.

"All inmates in Norwegian prisons are entitled to higher education in Norway if they meet the admission requirements," university rector Ole Petter Ottersen said Friday in an email to the Associated Press.

Norway's criminal justice system focuses on the rehabilitation of inmates and offers numerous programs centered on prisoner reintegration to society, including higher education programs.

Breivik was reportedly refused admission to the Oslo University two years ago for failing to meet the entry standards.

"He then didn't meet the admission requirements. Now his grades live up to what is expected," university spokeswoman Marina Tofting said.

Related: Being Mad About Cartoons Was Not What Motivated the 'Charlie Hebdo' Murderers

The university's decision to admit the mass murderer has renewed the debate about granting prisoners rights to education, especially those like Breivik who have committed horrific crimes for which they have never shown remorse. Breivik, now 36, planted a car bomb near government headquarters in Oslo on July 22, 2011, killing eight people. Afterward, he traveled to an island dressed as a police officer and shot dead 69 people as they attended a summer camp organized by the country's then-ruling Labour Party. Many of the victims and survivors were teens, some of whom attended Oslo University.

Before the attack, Breivik, a far right-wing extremist, released a 1,500 page anti-Muslim manifesto. He also also claimed to be a member of the Knights Templar, a secretive, now non-existent chivalric order that existed in the Middle Ages.

"I realize there are many feelings involved here," Ottersen said. "He tried to demolish the system. We have to stay faithful to it."

Next week a planned information exhibition about the killings is set to open in Oslo. The display has stirred up raw emotions among survivors and relatives of the victims who are concerned that the exhibit, which includes some of Breivik's personal items, will enshrine his actions and become a "hall of fame" for the now infamous killer.

"It's regrettable that the attacker is getting the attention he always sought," Tor Oestboe, whose wife was among the victims, told Reuters.

Norway's Minister of Local Government and Modernization Jan Tore Sanner has defended the exhibition, saying "We cannot and should not forget this story. Knowledge is the most important instrument against hate, violence and extremism."

Related: 'Je suis Charlie' and 'Je ne suis pas Charlie' are both the wrong response to the Paris massacre

Breivik is set to begin his three-year bachelor's degree remotely from prison in August and will study, among other topics, subjects in democracy, human rights, and respect for minorities, the university said. He will not be allowed to communicate with students or staff or access online learning resources.

The United Nations human rights agency released a report in 2009 promoting prisoners' rights to education and other freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the "right to take part in cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality."

"We cannot imprison a person for many years without providing an avenue for change," The UN's Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Vernor Muñoz, wrote in the report. "Indeed change will have occurred but certainly not how it was envisioned. For we will have created an envious, frustrated, delusional, pent-up, angry and de-humanized individual who will certainly seek revenge."

Breivik is currently serving 21 years for his crimes, and his sentence can be extended when it is up.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.